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Costly doesn't mean quality, Consumer Reports finds while rating MN physicians

Consumer Reports has done it again, publishing the second edition of a special medical insert that ranks physician practices within a given state on the basis of quality and cost of care — recommendations intended for the patient populace to heed when searching for the perfect provider fit.

While round one of the segment, released in June, shown the floodlight on nearly 500 doctors practicing within the sea-soaked confines of the bay side state, Massachusetts, this binary bout transpires over a very different body of water, in the land of 10,000 lakes — Minnesota. But whereas the journey from Mass. to Minn. seems like a stretch (both geographically and in literal terms) the trajectory and current of the new installment mirrors those of its predecessor. Overall, a practice’s affordability and dedication to common, pressing afflictions were again deemed the primary components necessary for an effective and desirable doc-operation.

“We are hopeful that Minnesota residents will use these independent findings to help them select physician practices that are the best match for their priorities and needs -- and to work with their doctors to improve their quality of care,” John Santa, director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center, said in a statement.

“The great thing in working with Consumer Reports (CR) is they take a very scientific approach to this work, as each of our community collaboratives does,” added Jim Chase, president of Minnesota Community Measurement, in an interview with co-founder of MedPharma Partners LLC, David E. Williams. “We wanted to…test what kinds of information people would find most valuable, and CR has robust processes to see what their readers found useful. We also wanted to test different types of information. That is why Massachusetts chose to publish their Patient Experience reports, Minnesota chose clinical quality measures on two chronic conditions, and Wisconsin will be reporting on prevention. We will be able to get feedback on what presentations worked and what they found useful.”

Minnesota healthcare was evaluated in two parts: the cost and quality of 18 primary care doctor groups located in a densely populated area — in this case, the Twin Cities — and the performance caliber of 552 groups statewide regarding their treatment of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The Twin Cities study utilized data from HealthPartners to determine a physician group’s level of participation in the insurer’s network; it measured this in terms of quality of care, patient satisfaction and cost, with each of the 18 groups receiving between one and four points for success in all or a given category. Surveyors determined that costlier care does not always equate to better care.

“Excellent care does not need to be the most expensive care, and expensive care is not always the best quality,” Santa noted.

The status of “best value” HealthPartner network practices in the Twin City area can be found here.

Partnering with the nonprofit group Minnesota Community Measurement, Consumer Reports conducted a separate, yet related analysis on 552 Minnesota physician groups and the quality of their diabetes and cardiovascular care processes. Unlike the first report, cost was not a factor for the diabetes delving, nor were the subjected doctor groups required to be a part of the HealthPartner network. Entira Family Clinic’s White Bear Lake location topped the list of highest-rated practices, controlling blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels, among other measures, more precisely than a majority of competing practices in the state. Most of the 37 practices that received the highest marks in both diabetes and cardiovascular care were located in the Twin Cities area, but other more rural locations, such as The Mankato Clinic in Mapleton, a southeastern Minnesota city, were also commended for exemplary treatment methods.  

But grades weren’t extraordinary across the board — 66 practices received dismal ratings for diabetes care, 50 faltered with cardiovascular care and 24 were in poor standing for both groupings.

A full list of the best and worst diabetes/cardiovascular care practices in Minnesota can be found here.

“We think the public needs more robust information on not just the quality of care, but also the patient experience and cost,” Chase said to Williams. “We have been able to test two of those aspects, quality and patient experience, in these CR inserts.  We were glad that Consumer Reports also shared information on the cost of care at several medical groups from one of our health plans in Minnesota, HealthPartners...This showed where we need to go in our state, to have community-wide information for the public on cost, quality and patient experience. Just as our experience has been with quality reporting, we believe giving the public comparable information on the cost of care across medical groups will encourage those providers to increase the value of care for their patients and help the public make better choices about their care.”

Find more from the Chase interview here on Williams’ Health Business Blog.